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Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki offers vast oral history archives

By Alex Banks, oral history coordinator at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

Billy Walker demonstrates alligator wrestling in 2008. A video is part of the museum’s oral history archives. (Courtesy Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

BIG CYPRESS — Oral history and the practice of passing down history, legends, and stories has been and continues to be an important cultural practice for the Seminole Tribe. The museum’s oral history collection helps to continue this tradition.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum currently houses more than 300 oral history audio/visual files. Over 200 different tribal members – from the 1960s to present – have contributed to this vast audiovisual resource.

A majority of the recordings are only available to tribal members for privacy and security reasons. Privacy and security are of paramount importance for this collection.

The collections division has two hard drives with digital access copies of every oral history. If one were to come looking for a specific individual or topic, the oral history coordinator could then use a glossary of oral histories organized by interviewee’s last name, a master list of oral histories organized by chronology, and/or key terms and a topics index to quickly find which oral histories are most relevant to their specific research interests.

One might expect a typical oral history interview to look like an interviewer and interviewee sitting down across from each other at a table, engaging in a lengthy question and answer session. While many of the oral histories in the museum’s collection resemble this visual, there are also several demonstration videos, panel presentations, public speaking presentations, sessions in which tribal members identify family members in photographs, and so on.

To further illustrate this point, there are roughly five or six standard interviews about alligator wrestling, but there is also a recording of an alligator wrestling demonstration. Someone researching alligator wrestling would, therefore, be able to listen to thorough explanations of the history and technique of alligator wrestling, and then they would be able to actually watch a demonstration. This is just one brief example of the great level of detail one might be able to find on any given topic in the collection.

Other frequent topics (whether just by interviewees bringing them up or because a series of interviews were conducted with questions about these specific topics in mind) are the organization of the tribe and federal recognition, the Seminole Wars, the Vietnam War, Okalee Indian Village, traditional camp life, environmental considerations in the Everglades, and so on.

All tribal members are invited to not only come explore and research the museum’s oral history collection, but to also feel free to sit down and have your story recorded and preserved for future generations. If you are interested in either looking through or adding to the oral history collection, you can email museum@semtribe.com or more directly the oral history coordinator at alexanderbanks@semtribe.com or (863) 902-1113 ext. 12214.

An example of items set up for guests to view oral histories includes hard drives that are stored in the museum archives (left); a laptop displaying an oral history interview with Quenton Cypress, and the equipment needed to enjoy it (right). (Courtesy Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)
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